Smooth – and fast! – Sailing down the Chesapeake

22 June 2015

Despite the uneasiness about the remnants of Tropical Storm ‘Bill’ and how quickly it would move out of the area Saturday night, the 2015 ARC DelMarVa fleet got underway on time in beautiful weather Sunday morning, a great start to Father’s Day. A brisk breeze sprung up out of the west just as the committee boat set up on station outside Back Creek at the starting line. Nearly 20 boats took the start, with a handful of others joining the fleet from various other ports.

And what a difference a year makes! Last year’s fleet started down the Bay tacking against a light southerly. That didn’t hold of course, but quickly increased into the low 20-knot range, with higher gusts, wreaking havoc amongst the rally fleet, many of whom had never been out overnight before. So it was a challenging – and long! – passage to say the least. Most boats didn’t arrive into Portsmouth until the wee hours of Tuesday morning, taking well over 36 hours to make the 130-mile passage.

But this year was oh so different, hopefully an omen of what’s to come for the rest of the week. The first boats started arriving into Hampton Roads before dawn on Monday morning, pulling into Ocean Marine Yacht Center before the marina staff even arrived! The rest of the fleet is tightly bunched not far behind.

The passage south was about as smooth as can be on the Chesapeake. Following the start the fleet enjoyed their Sunday reaching south in a brisk westerly, with winds in the 10-15 knot range and sheets eased. After a brief lull around dinnertime, it picked up again after sunset from the WSW, blowing close to 20 knots at times, but still with a favorable enough angle for most boats to set sail again and lay the course. The wind veered overnight to boot, ultimately allowing for eased sheets yet again on the final approach to Thimble Shoal lighthouse and the entrance to Hampton Roads.

It’s the second year in a row that ARC DelMarVa organizers are sailing in the event. Andy & Mia set up the starting line on their ‘Isbjorn’, getting underway about 30 minutes after the rest of the fleet took the starting line. The big Swan 48 powered it’s way through the fleet as they sailed down the Bay, catching and passing everyone except the big Southerly 57 ‘Tristan B’, who took ‘line honors’ so to speak outside Thimble Shoals. ‘Passing Wind’ followed closely behind, though they had a head start, beginning the rally from their homeport in Herrington Harbor. Isbjorn’s elapsed time of 22 hours was a remarkable 17 hours faster than Andy & Mia’s time last year on Sojourner, Andy’s father Dennis’ Wauquiez 38. They’re different boats to be fair, but nonetheless, it emphasizes just how much an impact the weather has on the Chesapeake.

Most of the yachts will have a full day to enjoy historic Portsmouth, VA today, though with the intense heat, most of that might well be spent indoors! Temps are forecast to break 100º F tomorrow, so it’s a good thing the party this evening will be held in the cool comfort of Roger Brown’s air-conditioned banquet facility in town! Looking ahead, the forecast looks promising for the offshore leg tomorrow.